Book Review: The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by G.J. Meyer

The Tudors GJ Meyer 2

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because there is nothing more I love than an author who approaches these controversial subjects in an objective way. Unfortunately, we are all humans and prone to our ow biases and G.J. Meyer wasn’t the exception. His intention was to dispel myths about the Tudor era and he did it brilliantly when it came to Mary I, the six wives (who’ve come to define Henry VIII’s reign), Mary, Queen of Scots and other important figures to some extent; but when it came to the perennial figures we keep hearing about, it seemed like he was more concerned about deconstructing them rather than presenting them as figures of their time. I also noticed how -for someone who claims to be doing the opposite of what propagandist have done to elevate these figures to hero status- he seemed to take secondary sources into account as opposed to primary ones when it suited his narrative.

The Tudors GJ Meyer 1

Granted, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and for many decades Henry VII as well, have been seen as icons. You just have to look at how the first two are portrayed in the media to confirm this, or how historians fawn over them; but instead of addressing where they are wrong, G.J. Meyer swings the pendulum to the other side.

I adore Elizabeth I but I’m not blinded to her faults. She broke promises and made vague ones, and she treated her cousins awfully; and just like her sister, she could be both cruel and merciful. Addressing this shouldn’t be difficult. You can say Henry VIII was inventive, one of the most learned princes in Christendom who enjoyed sports and engaging in theological debate. He’d be angry when people let him win, and loved to be challenged. But something happened and that something happened is something that G.J. Meyer briefly addresses but not as much as I would’ve liked. This something happened to be his absence of a male heir. The Tudor Dynasty was new and the wars of the roses was still fresh on everyone’s memory, not to mention that people were wary of a female king. Even in places where there had been queen regnants, people were still not entirely receptive to the idea of being governed by a woman.
Times were changing however. This was not the medieval age when people believed more firmly that they could never be governed by a woman because women were supposed to be submissive, and due to their delicate nature, they couldn’t rely on them to make hard decisions or lead men into dangerous war. There was also the question of childbirth. What if she died in childbirth? Who would head her son’s regency, and what if she married the crown prince or king of another powerful country? Would that turn their country into a colony of that realm?
These were serious questions that Humanists and other scholars were debating at the time that Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, not to mention that initially he sought a way to salvage her honor and their daughter’s status by proposing a settlement that would be agreeable to her. Some of her supporters even though that she should have given in and press Henry to keep his promise, as well as press the pope to do what he did for his sister, the Queen Dowager of Scotland, Margaret Tudor when she annulled her second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Her daughter should have been declared a bastard since under this arrangement, her parents were never legally married but thanks to the “good faith” clause, she remained legitimate.
But Katharine chose not to, and the rest as we know is history. There is another element to this story and that is Henry’s fatal injuries. He suffered a fall from his horse in the 1520s and another (more serious one) in 1536 and this, many historians agree, worsened his behavior.
The author also seemed to fall into the recent trend among many novelists which is to cast Richard III in a positive light, ignoring his obvious flaws and mismanagement, at the expense of Henry Tudor who comes off as the villain of this story. No one denies that Henry Tudor altered events, rewrote history to justify his reign. But this wasn’t exclusive to the Tudors, what could have been said is that what the Tudors did differently is that they did it so much more effectively with their methods being far more insidious.

As far as the Tudors go, they were complex individuals and history is not an exact science because no social science truly is. Nonetheless, this book tackled many important subjects and offered a new perspective on previously demonized or ignored figures.

If you are new to the Tudor age, this will be a good book to binge on that sheds light on the subject but I recommend that after you finish, you also read on other books that offer different perspectives so you can form a better opinion on this subject. If you are not new to this subject, this is still a good book to read for that same reason and the other reasons I previously pointed out.

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Jane Grey, the early years: An Outstanding Prodigy & Evangelical leader in the making

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

There is no question that Jane Grey was for all intent and purposes a prodigy, even for her times. Today we expect children to learn the basics. But back in the sixteenth century, things were different, especially for noblewomen, who were expected to make their families proud by finding a suitable husband who’d make a powerful ally. In the case of Jane Grey, being the eldest of her sisters, meant she had to meet most of society’s expectations. Having royal blood, and being related to the King through her mother, meant that she had to work harder than Katherine and Mary, and just as hard -if not more- than her bastardized cousins, Ladies, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Jane Grey HBC black and white 1

But Jane Grey exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially her father whose continual indulgence made her appreciate him more than her mother who was stricter. When her thirst for knowledge became evident, she became a ward in the Parr household. Queen Dowager Kathryn Parr had recently remarried, for the fourth and last time to her true love, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. The couple’s manor, Sudeley Castle, became a safe haven for many intellectual curious girls like Jane. Among them was Jane’s cousin, and Kathryn’s favorite royal stepdaughter, lady Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor was nearly Jane’s equal, but after she fell from grace, Jane took her place in Kathryn’s heart.

Jane lamented the Queen Dowager’s death, and after she was returned to her parents, she berated them and begged them to send her back. She wrote how unfair they were treating her. Several historians and novelists have taken this as ‘proof’ that Jane Grey’s mother was a wicked woman and her husband, an indolent fool, or her partner-in-crime who saw their daughter as nothing more than tool in their quest to gain more power. As easy as it is to turn this into a dualistic tale of good and evil, heroes and villains and so on; the truth is that her parents were neither of these things.
Lord Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset and (after the fall of Somerset) Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, were self-serving aristocrats. This is not unusual given that a family’s number one interest was in promoting their children to other courtiers in the hopes that they would marry into equally or more powerful families to further their riches. Family mattered more than everything else, and this is where religion comes into play as well because it was believed that the best way to raise successful wives and lords, was to instill the fear of god in them. As a result, Jane’s intelligence became highly by Reformers in England and abroad.

Jane Grey black and white 3

Soon after, she became one of the leading figures in the Evangelical movement. In 1552, shortly after Somerset’s execution, her family gained more prominence. Renown Protestant figures like the pastor Michael Angelo Florio whose congregation looked after Protestant exiles, praised her and held her as an example for other Protestant women to follow. He wasn’t the only one, older women like William Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, thought the same. In a letter she wrote in Greek, she compared the adolescent girl to the fourth century bishop of Caesare, Basil the Great, and gave her a copy of one of his many works. Her former tutor Bullinger introduced her to the works of Theodore Bublinger who had translated the Koran -this has led some historians to believe that she might have also been taught Arabic. As her popularity among scholars grew, Jane’s self importance also grew and so did her arrogance. Her father, by this time Duke of Suffolk, together with the Marquis of Northampton (William Parr -Katherine Parr’s brother), and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, supported the King in his reissue of the prayer book which completely outlawed the mass and introduced more radical reforms inspired by Swiss and German reformers such as Bullinger and Ulm. There were few opponents in Edward’s council to these new reforms, but among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who had been a good friend of the “Good Duke” (Edward Seymour) and believed these reforms were too radical and too soon to be implemented. Also in this year, Henry began to make plans for his eldest daughter and heir’s betrothal. Jane was not he first bride her father in law had in mind for Guildford. Margaret Clifford, another descendant of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon was his first choice but her father said no since Guildford was only a fourth son and in spite of his pleas and the king’s, the earl’s mind remained unchanged. As the king’s health got worse the following year, he gave his blessing to Northumberland and Suffolk to wed their four teenage offspring. In a triple marriage ceremony in May 25 1553, Jane was married to Guildford, Katherine to Lord Herbert, and Catherine Dudley to Lord Hastings. With the pieces set, it was only a matter of time before Edward’s passing led to their final move.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • –. The Sisters who would be Queen. Harper. 2009.
  • Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.

22 JANUARY 1552: The Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour contrast with Tudors
The Historical Edward Seymour (left) was in reality a shy man as opposed to the intimidating figure played by Max Brown (right) in “The Tudors”.

 

On the 22nd of January, Edward Seymour, the former Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset was executed.

John Dudley and William Herbert had grown dissatisfied with the way he was running the country. When Edward Seymour was elected Lord Protector, he got to that position by making deals with many of Henry VIII’s executors and members of his imagined Regency Council. Edward was also part of this council, and upon his death he was going to be elevated to Duke and his eldest son by Anne, to Earl. But this wasn’t good enough for him. Less than a year later, he had alienated most of his supporters, including his brother. After Thomas’ execution, there was a popular uprising and instead of dealing with them in the same manner he had dealt with the Scots in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, he pardoned many of them.

One of his close friends and allies, (Paget) had warned him of what might happen if he continued down this path. In a letter, dated July 7th 1549, he wrote: “I see at the hand the King’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the King’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what your promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the late King died … planning with me for the place you now occupy to follow my advice before any other. Had you done so, things would not have gone as they have. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither. The old religion is forbidden and the new not generally imprinted. The law is almost nowhere used: The commons have become King.”

The Protector obviously chose to ignore it until August when John Dudley and his men dealt with the rebels accordingly.

“The Earl of Warwick commanded an army of twelve thousand professional soldiers and German mercenaries against Norfolk farm boys with few guns or blades, but hopes of “an equal share of things.” Three thousand men died outside Norwich at Dussindale on 27 August.” (Lisle)

As he and his men gained more supporters, Somerset took his nephew to Windsor where he promised him he would be safe from his enemies. The King highly distrusted his uncle but there was little he could do.

Edward VI

Anticipating his arrest, the Protector took his nephew to Windsor. He told him that he was taking him to a “safe haven” and that this would be temporary until he dealt with his enemies.

Anne joined her husband at Windsor days later. With no one else they could trust, they sent their ten year old son, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to bring reinforcements. But these never came. Instead, the boy was intercepted in the West by Sir William Herbert.

Sir William Herbert’s allegiance was to the league of conspirators, among them his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Northampton, William Parr who was the late Queen’s brother and who was one of many who held a grudge on the Lord Protector for kicking him off the Privy Council. He probably held a grudge against his wife as well, given her treatment of his sister.

With their son captured, and one of their commanders asking the Protector to step down “rather than any blood be shed,” the two realized that they had no option but to surrender.

Eventually he was released and continued to attend council meetings, but on the 16th of October 1551, he was arrested once again and brought to the Tower. His wife was arrested the following day and also brought to the Tower and *“if we are to judge from the list of articles she sent for, she must have realized that her visit was a long one.”

The charges laid against the Duke of Somerset were outrageous. Following his first arrest, he had lost his Protectorate but still retained some influence. His wife went on to make deals with the leading families in government by proposing betrothals to the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Warwick and others, to her son and daughters. Warwick married his son to her daughter Anne, but as tensions began rising, the couple decided to use the last card they had up their sleeves which was their illustrious daughter Jane.

John Dudley

Jane was smart, articulated, and was highly praised by her mother’s chaplain and other Reformers. If she could get her royal cousin’s attention, she could bring her father back into favor. Somerset’s plan were discovered and fearing what he would do if he succeeded, Dudley and the others prosecuted him, and charged him with attempted murder, saying he planned to invite all the nobles to dinner so he could murder them. Since there wasn’t any evidence regarding this, new charges were laid against him, this time they involved sedition treason and conspiracy to “overthrow the government, imprison Northumberland and Northampton, and convene Parliament.”

Somerset attended the hearings in December where Lord Strange was brought in to testify of his plans to marry his daughter to Edward VI so he could regain power, and others were brought in to add more weight to the other charges. After his trial, his sentenced was pronounced, along with his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope who had also been arrested and charged with treason.

There are many versions of his last words, one comes from his chaplain (John Foxe) who wasn’t present for his execution but he maintained that his account was taken from a “certain noble personage” who was.

Edward began by saying: “Dearly beloved masters and friends, I am brought hither to suffer, albeit that I never offended against the king neither by word nor deed, and have been always as faithful and true unto this realm as any man hath been. But foresomuch as I am by law condemned to die, I do acknowledge myself, as well as others, to be subject thereunto …” and added that he had come here to die, according to the law, and gave thanks “unto the divine goodness, as if I had received a most ample and great reward” then asked them to continue to embrace the new religion and obey their young King.

His speech was then interrupted by the arrival of two horsemen which the people took as a sign of a pardon and shouted “A pardon! A pardon! God save the King!” But it wasn’t. Northumberland and the council had issued a law that prevented the lords’ tenants and the common citizenry yet they still managed to come. So they were sorely disappointed when they found out that no such pardon was given and turned to their hero, the “Good Duke”, who said lastly:

Edward Seymour

“Dearly beloved friends, there is no such matter here in hand as you vainly hope or believe. I have always showed myself a most faithful and true subject and client unto him. I have always been most diligent about His Majesty in doing of his business, both at home and abroad, and no less diligent about the common commodity of the whole realm.”

Kneeling down, he let his face be covered with his handkerchief and right before the axe cut through his neck, he prayed “Lord Jesus, save me.”

In many ways, Edward Seymour can’t be blamed for the economic disaster since he inherited that from Henry VIII, but in other ways his mismanagement caused an even worse economic crisis and despite his popularity with some of the commons, he attempted to solve the problem of vagabonds by turning them into slave and his wars with Scotland brought an even greater strain on the treasury.

But for the people gathered that day, he was their hero and like many popular saints with the old religion, they saw him as something larger than life, and some even went as far as dipping their handkerchiefs and other pieces of clothing in his blood and treasured them as relics.

Edward VI for his part showed very little emotion. He wrote in his diary after he had been informed of his uncle’s death: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour *
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI by Chris Skidmore

Jane Seymour: The Death of the Phoenix and the Beginning of Myth

Jane Seymour tomb and depictions

On the 24th of October 1537, twelve days after she’d given birth to Prince Edward, Jane Seymour died of puerperal fever at Hampton Court Palace. She was buried on St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on the 12th of the following month with Henry joining her ten years later. Despite the lack of monumental greatness that Henry had planned for the two of them, their tombs is marked by a simple slab on the floor telling indicating their resting place.

In popular fiction, Jane has gone down as ‘other woman’ or the ‘submissive’ antithesis of Anne Boleyn –Anne being a shrew and Katherine, being old and overtly pious. But the truth behind the myth of Jane Seymour lie in her actions and the few occasions where she displayed acts of rebelliousness that had characterized her predecessors. Although recent studies have rehabilitated her predecessors, there has been very little to rehabilitate Jane, and this is largely because Jane is perceived as the boring one, the tool, the young Ophelia with no thought or will of her own –who was manipulated by her family- and in some occasions, as the woman who stepped over Anne and –as a consequence- had her hands stained with her blood. Agnes Strickland’s biography on the Queens of England, spends a large portion talking about Anne’s death while at the same time telling what clothes Jane must be picking the day her predecessor was going to her death.

In reality, as one women’s historian put it in her biography on the six wives, Jane had no more freedom than Anne. Could any woman, she asks, have said no to Henry? The answer is of course no. In his biography on Katherine Howard (whose motto of ‘No Other Will but His’ resembles Jane’s ‘Bound to Obey and Serve’) Conor Byrne highlights the sexual and honor politics that are central when it comes to studying this period. It was in the interest of every woman to find a good husband, not just because it was acceptable but also because of what it could bring to their families.

Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in
Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in “The Tudors” s3.

A marriage of that caliber that was proposed to Jane by the King was too good of an offer to refuse. As her predecessor, she would have recognized the benefits that this would mean for her family. And she wasn’t wrong. As soon as she married the King, her eldest brother (who had already distinguished himself since his early career fighting in the first phase of the Italian Wars in the 1520s and being knighted by the Duke of Suffolk around the time, as well as earning and buying important governmental positions) was created Viscount of Beauchamp and Hache, and not only that but Jane stood as godmother for his son. Three days after Prince Edward’s christening, he was elevated to Earl of Hertford and it was around this time that Jane started to feel very ill.

Given how dangerous childbirth was, and that many women had gone through similar ordeals, the fact that she was growing tired, wasn’t that much of a red flag to anybody as she soon recovered. But on the twenty third she suffered her last relapse and this time it became clear to everybody that she wasn’t going to make it. Suffering from child-bed fever, her chamberlain Lord Rutland reported that she was going to be better thanks to “a natural laxe” but this didn’t last.

“The doctors told Henry that if she survived the vital crisis hours that day she would definitely recover. Henry remained with her to the end” William Seymour writes, while Antonia Fraser adds in her biography on the six wives, that Henry had planned a hunting trip to Esher that day but put it off after hearing the news of his wife’s illness. John Russell wrote to Cromwell later on saying that “if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.”

But despite the comfort of having her husbaand stay, it didn’t stop the inevitable. Her confessor arrived early on the twenty fourth to prepare the sacrament, and Jane exhaling her last breath, died a little before midnight that same day.

Masses were held to pray for “the soul of our most gracious Queen”. After her death, most of her possessions were bequeathed to her ladies and stepdaughters (the main beneficiary being Mary) and some other jewels went to her younger brothers, Thomas and Henry.

“Could any female subject really give Henry a decisive refusal?” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII p.211

And while it has been previously stated that Jane’s true self can be seen by some of her actions, some might still choose not to believe this, opting instead for the image of the dull, conniving, or innocent traitor. But the truth is that Jane was a woman of her times, one that didn’t have the connections that her first predecessor (Katherine of Aragon) had. If she said ‘no’ to the King, then she wouldn’t have become Queen which would mean that her family would have never benefited, which means that Henry would have looked elsewhere to replace Anne (and that woman would now be in Jane’s position, falling under harsh scrutiny, and likely blamed for her predecessor’s downfall). More importantly what characterizes Jane is not the image that Henry wanted everybody to remember, but rather the image she crafted for herself. As her mother-in-law, she was everything that a consort was ought to be, and everything she knew she had to be in order to survive. If Jane failed to please the King, or worse yet, to give him a male heir, who would defend her? Which faction would come to her rescue? Which powerful nephew would be there to demand Henry not to annul her marriage? The answer is pretty clear. No one.
Jane, like so many ambitious courtiers, played her cards, and so did her family who saw the benefits of such a union, and had she not died, she would have reaped off the benefits of being the mother of the future King of England.

Unfortunately, history is not a matter of what-ifs, and what would have been, we will never know but what we do know is that by giving Henry a male heir, she became immortalized as the ideal wife, mother and consort. And the “Death of Queen Jane”, written many years after, has Jane asking Henry to cut her open so the child could live. In reality, no such thing happened as Henry was away at the time of the birth, and the first C-section wasn’t practice on England until the late 1500s. But it is symbolic of the narrative that was created around Jane.

Henry would go on to marry three more times, but none of these marriages produced any issue. Jane’s son succeeded his father in 1547, but he died young at the age of 15. He was the last Tudor King and first Protestant monarch in England.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour

The Christening of Prince Edward: ‘Son and heir to the King of England’

789px-Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Edward_VI_as_a_Child_-_Google_Art_Project

On the 15th of October 1537, three days after he was born, Prince Edward was christened at the royal chapel of Hampton Court Palace. His eldest sister, Lady Mary Tudor, stood as his godmother with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, performing the ceremony.

Mary Tudor carrying Prince Edward

“As befitted a lady of royal birth –and the child’s godmother- she was wearing a kirtle of cloth of silver, richly embroidered.” (Porter)

And she wasn’t the only one dressed for the occasion. Despite the outbreak of the plague, between three and four hundred clerics, nobles and foreign envoys had come to witness the baptism of the new Tudor Prince. Among the nobles present, was none other than his second eldest sister, the Lady Elizabeth Tudor who was carried by her new step-uncle, Edward Seymour who was created Earl of Hertford on that day.

“The gentlemen in the procession walked in pairs, carrying unlit torches before them. The children and ministers of the king’s chapel followed. The knights, chaplains and other members of the nobility also walked in pairs.” (Norton)

Following them was the Marchioness of Exeter carrying the little prince, assisted by her husband and the Duke of Suffolk. The prince was “dressed in a great robe with a long train borne by Lord William Howard” and Norton adds: “over the prince’s head, a canopy was held by a number of gentlemen, including Thomas Seymour”. As was customary, Jane wasn’t present for her son’s christening. Instead, she waited in the Queen’s chamber and watched from her window the procession go by.

Jane Seymour red

As the ceremony finished, the heralds cried out: “Edward, son and heir to the King of England, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester” and afterwards the procession turned to the Queen’s apartments where he was welcomed back into his mother’s back. Henry was with her, and the two of them gave him their blessing before he was taken back to his room.

Despite being tired, Jane continued to be part of the celebrations and she was helped back to her bed after these were done. It is hard to know what was running through Jane’s mind, being that Jane is a mysterious and often elusive figure, but the times she made her voice heard, and even her silence alone, reveals as Chapuys once said of her “a woman of great understanding” and one who must have felt deeply proud and accomplished. She had succeeded where her predecessors and previous mistresses had failed. Sadly, she would not live long enough to reap the benefits. Jane would die nine days later as a result of childbed fever. And in death, she would become Henry’s favorite because of what she gave him: a son. And although the great monuments that Henry had planned for both of them never came to be, she would be remembered through the eulogies and poems made after her funeral, and her son would go on to become the first true Protestant King, and also the last Tudor (male) monarch.

Sources:

  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • Edward VI: The Last King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Jane Seymour by David Loades
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter

The Last Tudor King is laid to rest at Westminster Abbey

Edward collage1

On the 8th of August 1553, Edward VI was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey beneath a white marble vault in the Lady Chapel. The night before, a procession was led with “great company” of men and children, including Henry VIII’s bedesmen from the Greyfriar’s Church and Edward’s servants who wore black. Among the many symbols displayed ere the traditional Tudor symbols: The Welsh dragon, the greyhound, his father’s lion and of course, the Tudor rose which represented the union of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York. A symbol which would be shown on every Tudor’s coronation and funeral. Behind them came the coffin “covered by a canopy of blue velvet upon a chariot decorated with cloth of gold pulled by seven horses.” (Skidmore) Edward VI’s effigy was sculpted by Nichollas Bellin, and in it he wore the garter collar and bore the standards of the Tudor rose and the Seymour insignia.

“At his burying was the greatest moan made for him of his death as ever was heard or seen.”

In spite of his troubled reign, due to his young age, Londoners mourned him deeply.  And as a king, he showed a level of firmness and coldness that reminded people of their first two Tudor monarchs.

His sister (the yet to be crowned Mary I) feared a Protestant funeral would make her look weak in the eyes of the Lutherans who she said “would only become more audacious, and would proclaim that she had not dared to do her own will”. Renard and others in her council advised caution and told her of the seditious talk that had been circulating among Protestant circles in the capital, adding that giving him a Catholic funeral would make her subjects “waver in their loyal affections” for her. In the end Mary agreed to a compromise and five days after her triumphant entrance into London, she ordered her brother’s burial. His body was moved from Whitehall where it had been residing for almost a month to Westminster where he was buried following Protestant liturgy. The Mass was presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer with the Marquess of Winchester acting as his chief mourner. Meanwhile Mary held a separate requiem (Catholic) Mass for his soul at St. Peter’s chapel in the tower of London presided by George Day, Bishop of Chichester which according to one observer was considered a great insult to his memory and “prepared the way for papistry just like an advance raiding party.”

Sources:

  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • On this day in Tudor history by Claire Ridgway

Struggling to be Neutral in a Tudor Squabble for the Protectorate

“Because the trouble between us and the Duke of Somerset may have been diversely reported to you, we should explain how the matter is now come to some extremity. We have long perceived his pride and ambition and have failed to stay him within reasonable limits.” -October 9, 1549 to the Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

Mary I historical

Mary had been one of the many who had been asked to aid in Northumberland’s plot to overthrow the Protectorate under Somerset. Mary refused. Why? Wouldn’t it had been better if she curried favor with Dudley from the start? Things would’ve worked far easier for her if she did, she wouldn’t have to fight her way to the throne like her grandfather (Henry Tudor) did, and she would’ve had most of the Protestant elite with her.

John Dudley


In theory yes.


But this goes back to the myth of the innocent little boy manipulated by the ‘evil’ Duke of Northumberland who couldn’t stand on his own two feet to oppose him.
Northumberland and Mary didn’t just have different religious views, they had different preferences in terms of foreign policy. Dudley favored the French over the Spanish Hapsburgs.
And yes, religion played a role but if you want to go there, I suggest you read more books on the subject because the politics were far more complicated than you think. Mary wasn’t stupid either, she knew where Dudley stood in terms of religion, foreign policy, and everything else. She wasn’t going to fair better under him and she told the more naive Francois Van der Defelt this who was not as familiar with English politics as his predecessor -Eustace Chapuys- had been. And there was some familiarity between them. Mary had fond memories of his late sister, her father’s third wife and Edward VI’s mother, Jane Seymour, and she was just as fond of his wife who, far from the shrew in the television series “The Tudors” was nowhere near as scandalous and the terrible remarks spoken about her reflects the misogyny about the era and the view of strong women. When she became Queen, while she never fully agreed with her husband’s policies, she released Anne Seymour nee Stanhope from the Tower and restored some of her lands.

Mary and ass Elizabeth The Tudors1
Elizabeth like Mary had abstained herself from participating in the Duke of Somerset’s overthrow. She knew the Duke still had friends in court, and who knew if he could be overthrown for good or if he, as he threatened, could mobilize the people against his enemies.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Edward VI: The Death of the First True Protestant King of England

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

On the 6th of July 1553, King Edward VI of England died at Greenwich Palace. He was fifteen. He was the first true Protestant King of England. Although his father initiated the break with Rome, it was his son who instituted a book of common prayer that changed the face of how people worshiped throughout the country. During his reign, there were many disturbances, within his family and in the realm. As the coinage was devalued, and his uncles fought for control over their nephew, Edward became colder and agreed that sacrifices had to be made to ensure the stability of his realm. The rebels were severely punished, his uncles were executed and everyone who celebrated the Catholic Mass was a traitor. On the latter, he faced a great backlash from his sister, the Lady Mary Tudor who refused to give up her religion and confronted him many times (on one occasion she forced him to recall all the times she’d been good to him and another one she confronted his officials when they visited her house head on and screamed at them as they left).

Because he was leaving no heirs, he created a document called “My Device for the Succession” in which he posed a legal question of who should take the throne if he died? The question was answered months later when he and his councilors excluded his sisters from the line of succession and replaced them with Frances’ male heirs and (in case there were none) her daughters from eldest to youngest and their male heirs.

Edward VI's eldest sister, Mary Tudor.
Edward VI’s eldest sister, Mary Tudor.

On Sunday the second of July, the contents of the King’s will were made public and church services excluded the usual prayers for Mary and Elizabeth. This was a powerful symbol of things to come.
His eldest sister did not miss a thing. She knew something was amiss before the will was made public. She departed from her homestead the next day to Kenninghall in Norfolk from where she could flee in case Dudley and co. tried to apprehend her.

On Thursday between eight and nine o’clock on the evening, Edward VI drew his last breath. He had been surrounded by his two chief gentlemen of the privy chamber, Sir Thomas Wroth and Sir Henry Sidney, his groom Christopher Salmon and his doctors, Doctor Owen and Doctor Wendy. His last words, uttered in the form of a hoarse whisper were:

“Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me among thy chosen: how be it not my will, but thy will be done. Lord I commit my spirit to thee. Oh Lord! Thou Knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee: yet, for thy chosen’s sake, send me life and health, that I may truly serve thee. Oh my Lord God, bless thy people, and save thine inheritance! Oh Lord God save they chosen people of England! Oh my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry, and maintain thy true religion; that I and my people may praise thy holy name, for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake!”

Raising his head and looking straight at them he asked “Are you so nigh? I thought ye had been further off.”

“We heard you speak to yourself, but what you said we know not” was their reply. Edward told them it was because he was praying to the Almighty then when Sidney took him in his arms, he said with a note of finality “I am faint; Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit” then he died.

Some people were quick to say that the King had been poisoned by the ambitious Dudley who was eager to see Jane Grey on the throne (since she was married to his younger son Guildford) but these rumors have no basis. The people who whispered such things were immediately put in the Tower. Machyn, a merchant reported this in his diary. “The noble King Edward the VI was poisoned, as everybody says, where now, thank be God, there be many of the false traitors brought o their end, and I trust in God that more shall follow as they may be spied out.” Although this can be used by some to prove that he was poisoned, it is highly unlikely. Edward had been sick once of measles but he recovered very quickly. Now he wasn’t so lucky. This was the Tudor era where sickness ruled their world and everyone could be taken in the blink of an eye.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

The Duke of Northumberland wanted to keep his death a secret for three days so it would give him enough time to install Jane as Queen and apprehend Mary Tudor before she could stir up any trouble or worse, escape to Flanders where she could receive Imperial support from her cousin, the Emperor and King of Spain.
His plans were foiled. Someone ran to Mary right away and informed her of her brother’s death and this gave her the perfect weapon to rally up her tenants and countrymen, being the first one to inform them of her brother’s death and the Duke’s plot as well as the coup d’ etat.

Elizabeth (I) Tudor.
Elizabeth (I) Tudor.


“The King was dead”
as Leanda de Lisle writes in her biographies of the Tudors and the Grey sisters, “but the Tudor women were not finished yet”. And their fight would last decades until only one was left standing and we know who that was.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King by Chris Skidmore
  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

The Treaty of Greenwich, the Rough Wooing and Beyond

Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.

On the 1st of July 1543 the Treaty of Greenwich was signed which stipulated that the future King of England, Prince Edward Tudor would marry the Queen of Scots, Mary (I) Stewart. Mary of Guise was forced to agree with this treaty since as Consort she never really had a lot of influence outside of hosting pageantry and boosting her husband’s image through her own. However, with her husband’s death the past year, she began to be more involved in government, primarily because of her daughter’s well-being.

The Treaty had been discussed since the aftermath of James’ death. The pro-Protestant faction headed by the Earl of Arran agreed with the treaty and reached a compromise with the other Scottish lords. The Treaty seemed like a triumph for English ambitions of annexing Scotland to their domain. Never before had this happened. The last King who had these ambitions was Edward I of England. He sought to make the maid of Norway the new Queen of Scots –and in doing that, he would marry her to his son, Edward of Caernarfon (future Edward II) uniting both realms. Now Henry was going to make that dream a reality.
The treaty goes as follows:

  1. Prince Edward, eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VIII, now in his sixth year, shall marry Mary Queen of Scotland now in her first year.
  2. Upon the Consummation of the marriage, if the King is still alive, he shall assign to the said Mary, as dower, lands in England to the annual value of 2000 to be increased upon his death to 4,000.
  3. Until, by force of this treaty, the said Mary is brought into England she shall remain in custody of the barons appointed thereto by the 3 states of Scotland; and yet, for her better education and care, the King may send, at his expense, an English nobleman or gentleman with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants not exceeding 20 in all, to reside with her.
  4. Within a month after she completes her tenth year she shall be delivered to commissioners of England at the bounds of Berwick, provided that before her departure from Scotland the contract of marriage has been duly made by proxy.
  5. Within two months after the date of this treaty shall be delivered into England six noblemen of Scotland, two of whom, at the least, shall be earls or next heirs of earls and the rest barons or their next heirs, as hostages for the observance on the part of Scotland of these three conditions … the first and fourth articles of this treaty and the condition that if any of these hostages die he shall be replaced within two months by another of equal quality; Scotland, however, is to have power to change the hostages every six months for other of equal quality.
  6. Scotland shall continue to be called the kingdom of Scotland and retain its ancient laws and liberties.
  7. If after the marriage the Prince should die without issue the said Princess shall be at liberty to return into Scotland unmarried and free of impediment.
  8. Upon her going into England, James earl of Arran, governor of Scotland, who meanwhile shall receive the fruits of that realm, shall receive an acquittance thereof from the King and Prince Edward, a convenient portion for her honorable entry into England reserved.
  9. This treaty to be ratified within two months.

But Henry’s hopes proved to be (in Porter’s words) a true “chimera” because not long after Arran fell from power, many things happened which led to the Queen Mother becoming more influential than she had ever been, and making decisions in her daughter’s name, one of which included betrothing her to Francois I’s grandson, Francis. This did not happen all at once. By the time Mary Queen of Scots and her companions (among them her half-brother –who returned to Scotland shortly after- and her four female friends known as the “Four Maries”) a new King was in power. His name was Henry II and he was married to Catherine de Medici, although he was majorly influenced by his mistress, Diane Poiters who instantly formed a friendship with the child-Queen.
Henry II was just as conniving as his father, and he went a step further making her sign an agreement (shortly before her marriage) where she granted crown matrimonial rights to her husband and to France if she died and had no heirs. (This would come back to bite her later on.)

James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.
James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.

The Scots had always answered their monarch’s call when it came fighting against England. But this time it was different because the religious wars had creeped into Scotland, dividing the country into two. Yet despite their religious differences, there were some new Protestants that believed in Scottish sovereignty (such as Arran). The Earl intended to marry his son to the King’s youngest daughter, the lady Elizabeth Tudor, but if this failed and if the match between Prince Edward and his young Queen did not come to be, he also plotted to marry his son to her. Arran spent a lot of time negotiating with the English King through the latter’s ambassador, Ralph Sadler (who was a former protégé of his late minister, Thomas Cromwell) and sent commissioners south of the borders. But Henry VIII proved to be quite a challenge for them. Although these men were Anglophiles and were willing to give England a piece of the pie –more than Arran was willing to do- Henry still demanded too much. They succeeded in having him agree that Mary would stay in Scotland until she was ten but Henry also had the right to send “a nobleman or gentleman, with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants, not exceeding twenty in all, to reside with her”.

Mary of Guise.
Mary of Guise.

None of this came to be when Mary of Guise came to power and sent her daughter away (which Arran came to consent and he became a Catholic once again). What was known as the “Rough Wooing” came to be and carried on into Henry’s son, Edward VI, reign. Edward VI’s eldest uncle, the lord Protector, His Grace Duke of Somerset, sent many troops into Scotland, with the intention to pillage, kill and intimidate the Scots. Something he did not manage to do. And something which his successor, the future Duke of Northumberland did not agree.

Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.
Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.

During Mary I’s reign, although she was Catholic, she continued with her father and brother’s policy of aggression towards Scotland. She used the best tools and allies she had, her cousin Margaret Douglas and her husband who had been a prominent Scots, the Earl of Lennox, Matthew Stewart. Many believe that her religion made her into this evil mastermind who intended to unite all Catholic powers against her Protestant enemies. As enticing as this sound –and no doubt this would work in a Marvel or DC Alternate Universe of these events- this is not what happened. The only thing Mary (I) Tudor had in common with Mary of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots was her name. That’s it. She was still spying and bribing people to keep tabs on the situation there and profiting from the religious tensions that were going on in the Regent’s court.

Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I.

With Elizabeth I’s tensions intensified. Proving she was the lion’s daughter, she did not agree but neither did she not agree to make Mary Queen of Scots (who was a widow by the time she came back to her native land) her heir and she put conditions on her that if she did not abide by them, then she could not inherit Elizabeth’s crown. We all know what happened there, no need to relive the events that led to Mary Stewart’s tragic death.

James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I's death, he became King of England.
James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I’s death, he became King of England.

Yet, Henry VIII’s ambitions as his ancestor –Edward I’s- would materialize but not in the way they would have imagined. After the Tudor Dynasty died out with Elizabeth I being the last monarch of that line, James VI of Scotland became King of England, uniting once and for all both realms. James VI was the only surviving son of Mary, Queen of Scots by her second marriage to her cousin, Henry Stewart otherwise known as Lord Darnley. Through both his parents he descended from the first Tudor monarch’s eldest daughter –Princess Margaret Tudor.  His descendants still reign today.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

A Triple Wedding and a Coup in the making

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.

On May the 25th 1553 a triple wedding was celebrated. The couples were Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, his sister Lady Catherine and Lord Hastings, and Jane’s sister, Lady Katherine and Lord Herbert -the son of the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey
Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey

The wedding was a master plan in the making. Initially the ailing King, Edward VI had been considered as a potential suitor for the eldest of the Grey sisters since negotiations to continue his betrothal with Henry II’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth of France, were not going very well. Among the many reformers abroad who encouraged this union was Ulmer and Bulm who told their former apprentice she would flourish there. Jane’s popularity was rising and all that fame soon got to the teenager’s head. She began to make bolder statements against her cousin Mary and others who refused to follow the ‘true faith’. In Jane perspective, this was holy war, and she had become one of her faith’s greatest pioneers. But as the year 1552 came and went, it became clear to anyone that Edward’s days were numbered. He had survived a brush with death when he overcame the measles in 1551, but he wasn’t going to be so lucky this time. Edward began to draft a legal document that was more of a legal exercise that posed an important question on who would be king or queen after he died. The succession did not favor women as many people think. In fact “My Device for the succession” as it was titled, still favored male succession. It stated that if Frances failed to give birth to any male issue before he died, the throne would pass on to Jane and her sons. If Jane failed to have any sons then the throne would pass on to Katherine and her sons. And if she failed to have any sons as well, then to Mary and her sons.

To strengthen Jane’s claim and the Protestant alliance, the teenagers were married on the same day.  Not surprisingly, supporting the Evangelicals was France (whose own ambassador, Boisdauphin was present at the wedding) who were as opposed as they were to see the Lady Mary Tudor succeed her brother (since she would favor Spanish interests over French).

Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager  and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.
Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

The wedding took place in Northumberland’s London residence, at Durham House. The young couples wore “silver and gold fabrics forfeited to the King from the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and figuratively at least, marked with his blood.” (Lisle). Perhaps it was appropriate they were wearing such clothes since this wedding -albeit sanctioned by the head of their  church- was a declaration of war against their future rival, Lady Mary Tudor. The triple ceremony was attended by almost all of the nobility. They enjoyed a great number of entertainments such as masques, jousts, and a great feast. When the celebrations ended, the two Grey sisters went to their new homes with their respective fathers-in-law. Jane at Sion in Richmond, and Katherine at Bayanard’s Castle near the Thames (coincidentally the same palace one of their ancestress –Cecily Neville, Duchess of York  aka “Queen by Rights” and “Proud Cis”- had once possessed and where some historians suggest, Richard engineered his usurpation).

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

It is unclear whether the marriage was consummated or not. Some believed that it wasn’t because of her young age. But it is important to remember that in the Tudor age, the age of consent for girls was twelve and for boys fourteen. Both Jane and Guildford were well past that age range. Then again, the argument against it holds up very well too. Since she was her mother and Edward’s heir, her health was of the utmost importance. Consummating the marriage could result in a pregnancy which could result in her death or inability to have more children (as it had happened to her great-great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond).

Three days later, Edward VI’s doctors confirmed that he was dying. Edward had sent expensive gifts to the Grey sisters and to Catherine Dudley to congratulate them on their union. This proved his own validation for the Evangelical elite’s schemes against his sisters, and more than that, his own involvement with them. For Edward, it was imperative that England remained faithful and he believed that the only way that could be achieved was if another Evangelical succeeded him to the throne and that someone was Jane who was just as passionately Evangelical as he was.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Ives
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Caroll